Early Season Pre-Season Preview & More
International duty called and the Arsenal players turned up in force, bagging a hatful of goals to boot. Chu Young Park probably thought he would be leading the way with a hat-trick against international minnows, Lebanon. Phil Oakey never saw that one coming and nor did the San Marino goalkeeper as Robin van Persie bagged four of the eleven Dutch goals whilst Aaron Ramsey chipped in with a goal in the first Welsh victory in a competitive match in just under five years. It is always heartwarming when minnows do well.
The Arsenal squad including all of the new boys has been announced for the Premier League with no surprises from Wenger, no omissions through the manager able to construct a squad for the competitions being faced. Which is more than can be said for Andre Villas-Boas who has left out Romelu Lukaku from the Champions League squad, Chelsea already have their quota of non-homegrown players in their squad.
It highlights a problem that Manchester City will also face in years to come, namely that buying all of the talent in the world is fine and dandy but you cannot play it. And it takes a particularly lazy and greedy type of player to join those clubs knowing that they will not be in the team.
It is going to be interesting to see the media reaction to this. Had it been Arsenal the outcry would be deafening but Chelsea, City or United? Mild chastisement. That is not to claim an outright bias, simply that annoying Arsenal is, to borrow a phrase from our political past, like being savaged by a dead sheep. The club is simply too nice. Journalists wore it almost as a badge of pride to be barred from Carrington but the critical pieces never emerged because their paymasters want the pieces that sell. Arsenal do sell but not as much. It is not the club which is the problem, simply the economics.
And the economics of now tells you that criticising Arsenal sells. Some of it has an interesting historical bent, David Lacey picking on my bug bear that Arsenal do not defend trophies, no title or cup has been retained since the 1930s. By stooping to the exceedingly low levels of his peers, Lacey misses an opportunity to study why this is the case, why do Arsenal managers have a blind spot that prevents them strengthening their squads to retain trophies. That, as much as anything else, is why the current crop at Barcelona are being elevated to the pantheon of great football teams in history.
For the most part though, the analysis has been risible, ably assisted by a Fifth Column. Panic buying has become de rigeur amongst some, all of the signings seen as a reaction to the 8-2 mauling at Old Trafford. That Arteta was contacted before the weekend, according to the player, is conveniently ignored. That, according to Bild, Arsenal and Mertesacker had agreed a deal for 2012 when he was free is conveniently ignored, brought forward only when negotiations with Bolton utterly collapsed.
Such information does not fit with the scheme. Nor does waiting for the players to show their abilities before they are crudely written off. Apartly Mertesacker is not as good as Gary Cahill, the Germans record of international appearances reduced to a footnote because they were not for England. Quite simply, it is ludicrous to suggest that Mertesacker is a poor man’s Cahill simply because of nationality. And please do not over-rate Premier League experience, Fernando Torres nailed the coffin lid on that one last year.
There is a determination to condemn, Arteta written off as a winger as opposed to the central midfielder that everyone else seems to believe him to be. I am as happy as the next man to read a distinguished critique of the transfer window but that was not it. Nor was this one or this one. If questions are asked of Park then so be it, he is genuinely unknown to most but his record suggests he will be a good squad acquisition.
That the squad is weakened by the departures of Cesc, Nasri and Clichy is unquestionable. Gibbs is too injury-prone at the moment, to be considered anything other than a long-term replacement. Santos, we shall see if he is as good as Clichy – or better – but I am not concerned with his appearances for Brazil, simply those in an Arsenal shirt.
Crucially, Wenger strengthened the positions which were required at the end of last season, some internally, some externally. Mertesacker is the big centre back demanded. Frimpong the defensive midfielder. Gervinho, Park and Benayoun all put pressure on Arshvin, Rosicky, Walcott and Chamakh to perform to high levels, something Nicklas Bendtner will now get the chance to do at Sunderland rather than in his head.
The midfield is going to be different without Cesc but with Jack Wilshere due to return to training, the Catalan is being replaced by the sum of two parts – Arteta and Wilshere – rather than an individual. That aspect will be the most interesting. More important than that, the team has no one individual who is bigger than it. The midfield has some depth to it, now it needs to find consistency. There are concerns, Frimpong and Song could go to the Cup of Nations next year, Chamakh and Gervinho as well, stretching resources certainly in midfield.
So what to expect from this season? An improvement on current form. A solitary point from the three games so far was the nightmare scenario but not irretrievable since two of those fixtures were against rivals from the top six. That is not as bad as it seems, the extent of the last defeat intensifying the situation. Key to all of this is for the new players to bed in quickly and wins to be accumulated. If that happens, a top four place cannot be ruled out. Luck plays a big part and that will determine anything more.